"Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum." Graycie Harmon
Friday, September 4, 2009
Interview with Anita Stansfield
Anita Stansfield began writing at the age of sixteen, and her first novel was published sixteen years later. For more than a decade she has been the number-one best-selling author of women’s fiction in the LDS market. Her novels range from historical to contemporary and cover a wide gamut of social and emotional issues that explore the human experience through memorable characters and unpredictable plots. She has received many awards, including a special award for pioneering new ground in LDS fiction, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Whitney Academy for LDS Literature. Her forty-fourth book was released in August, 2009. Anita is the mother of five, and has one adorable grandson. Her husband, Vince, is her greatest hero.
Her newest release, "Shelter from the Storm" is volume 4 of the Jayson Wolfe Story. See also Sound of Rain, A Distant Thunder, and Winds of Hope volumes one, two and three in this series.
The first time I met Anita, she was speaking at a Romance Writers of America conference. I was immediately taken by her confidence, poise and persona. She had just blasted LDS romance into the stratosphere with her book "First Love and Forever." She truly paved the way for LDS fiction and became an iconic figure in the romance genre. This woman is gracious, passionate and talented, and I'm indeed lucky to call her my friend. I want to thank her personally for taking time out of her busy schedule to let me interview her.
Here is my interview with . . . Anita Stansfield.
M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Anita: My sister asked me to help her write a novel when I was sixteen. We weren’t very far into the project when I knew it was in my blood and I wanted it to be a career.
M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Anita: It was very challenging! I have more rejection letters than I can count, and there was a great deal of opposition. I finally signed the contract to get my first book published sixteen years from when I had begun writing at the age of sixteen. About ten of those years, I was writing equivalent to a full-time job, meaning that I put in an average of forty hours a week without making a penny. It was a long, hard road, but something in my spirit wouldn’t let me give up.
M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Anita: I was discouraged a LOT! The biggest thing that got me through was prayer and relying on the guidance of the Spirit. I prayed about the steps I took and did my best to follow my feelings and do what I believed was right in honoring my gift.
M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?
Anita: When I’m in that creative process, I write every minute I can while working around the needs of home and family, and other obligations. I don’t really have time set aside. I just write as much as I’m able until the story is out of my head. But I never write on Sundays.
M.B.: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Anita: I’ve never started a book by saying, “I think I’ll write about . . .” I have to say that my story ideas are simply inspired. They just come to me, and sometimes they’re very overwhelming and consuming. They rarely come at a convenient time, and I just have to go with it to the best of my ability and try to honor that inspiration. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think, “Will this be good enough to sell?” I just have to write what comes to me and have faith that the story will serve a purpose, even if that purpose is simply a learning experience for me. While I’ve certainly incorporated a lot of real-life issues, I’ve never written from anyone’s real-life experience; not even my own. After I get an idea with a firm story structure, I often speak with people who have been through the challenges I’m writing about, which gives it that real-life edge. But the plots and characters are completely fiction, and always have been. The only exception is the book that I wrote about Emma Smith.
M.B.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Anita: Just write, write, write. I think we hold ourselves back because we have the mindset that we’re not a writer, or we’re not good at grammar, punctuation, etc. I wrote a few books before I really stopped to learn how to be a good writer. The result was that I learned to listen to the ideas that came to me and just write them. Writing in itself is emotionally therapeutic, for whatever reason you might be doing it. And like anything else, it naturally just gets better with practice. Also, writing is a right-brain process, and the editing is a left-brain process. Don’t try to do both at the same time. Just write, write, write. Then pray and follow your feelings to discover the right path for your writing.
M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
Anita: As I mentioned, the ideas just come. I’ve never done outlines. Sometimes I have to write down a timeline, and I will write down notes and ideas as they come, but that’s more in a chaotic kind of list. Sometimes, I need to talk out loud to a listening ear in order to work out certain plot or character issues, but I find I’m doing that less and less. I think that after writing more than thirty years, the process is becoming a little easier. Perhaps that just means I’ve had enough practice to be able to process my ideas more efficiently when they come.
M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Anita: Yes, snags certainly come up. I either talk them through with one of my friends, or I just keep disciplining myself to keep going until it works itself out. When my writing gets sluggish, it’s usually because I’m allowing myself to get caught up in distractions. If I just sit down and force myself to write (even if it’s text I’ll eventually throw out) it seems to eventually kick in and get flowing.
M.B.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Anita: To be a mother of five is not conducive to having absolute quiet. If I’d waited for quiet, uninterrupted hours, I never would have written a single book. I do ask my children to keep the noise to a certain level, and we have certain rules that apply while I’m writing, but interruptions and noise are just a part of motherhood. I absolutely have to listen to music when I write. The two are inseparably connected.
M.B.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Anita: Music is a huge factor in my creative process. I learned accidentally many years ago that the music I was listening to would impact the story, so now I search for music that expresses the mood and emotions I’m writing about. I also use pictures of real people for my characters; actors, musicians, models, etc. It’s like casting an actor in a role, except I’m just using the face. So, I surround myself with audio and visual stimulation and just dig in. I’ve never been able to afford to travel for research, so I just have to try and create my own atmosphere.
M.B.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Anita: Charles Dickens. I’ve always felt a little strange or odd, even among other writers, until I read multiple biographies on Dickens, and I felt completely validated. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to admit, or not. I’m just grateful that I have things in my life he didn’t have. He was a very unhappy man, but his creative processes are fascinating to me.
M.B.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?
Anita: I was actively involved in a critique group for many years during the time that I was trying to get published. It fizzled out before I actually sold my first book because our goals were all so different, but during the years that it worked it was very beneficial. I learned to be able to accept criticism, sift it through, and discern what was valid and what was not. I learned the importance of being able to defend something in your work that you believe in, even when others disagree or are unkind. I also learned to learn from others. We can never accomplish anything great completely on our own.
M.B.: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?
Anita: That’s a hard question; it’s like asking which of my children I love the most. I have tender spots for all of my books, although there are certainly some that are closer to my heart. Some of them were written very quickly and don’t have as much depth. The projects that took more time and commitment resulted in a deeper fulfillment, I believe. I’m very fond of the Hamilton family, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are my favorite. My REAL favorite is a saga that is still unpublished which has no LDS content.
M.B.: Any final words you would like to share
Anita: My gift has brought many challenges and a lot of grief into my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for any other path. I love my gift! It has also brought many miracles and wonderful opportunities. I love being able to write stories that change people’s lives for the better. I’m especially grateful when I hear that a story has helped someone through something tough and helped them make better decisions. It’s also been a great privilege to see the missionary work that has been accomplished through my work.
M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Anita: Mostly through LDS bookstores, or online through the same sources. My website is anitastansfield.com; readers can go there and sign up for regular newsletters and updates. Also, I have a couple of fan sites on Facebook where readers can go for discussions, updates, and contests. You’ll also find information there for a new blog being done by fans that should soon be up and running.
I would also like to add that I’m excited to be working on the screenplay for my first published book, “First Love and Forever.” The producer of “The Best Two Years” is working with Covenant to put the book on film. If all goes well, we’ll be filming next spring. Regular updates on this project will be posted in the places I mentioned previously.
My greatest claim to fame is my family. I am married to my prince charming and have four awesome children. This year I experienced the joy of becoming a grandmother to my sweet baby girl Halle. I love to travel and I love to write books.